Batman (1989)

Batman (1989)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release.

Film: If you have been enjoying all those Marvel movies, and other movies based on comic properties you basically have this film to thank.

Tim Burton’s Batman film, released in 1989, wasn’t just a film, it was a phenomenon. Today, the idea of making a super-hero film is an easy one, especially if you have the initials ‘DC’ or the world ‘Marvel’ attached to it. Even non-superhero comic based franchises have successfully launched with things like Riverdale (loosely based on Archie comics), The Walking Dead (based on the Image comics) and the Edgar Wright helmed Scott Pilgrim Vs the World (based on Brian Lee O’Malley’s comic) all finding various degrees of success. Back then, comics were ‘still for kids’ and the idea of making a film that would be successful, based on a comic, wasn’t something taken too seriously. The first two Superman films had set a standard, that like this series of films, the final two didn’t stand up to, and Batman was also a hard character to make a serious film of because most people remembered him as the character from the campy TV series of the 60s.

When the producers had decided to make a film more like the comics rather than the TV show, that was dark, and really tapped into the ideas of justice and fear, and they accidentally found that people who had grown up with both the comics and action films of the 80s were prepared to take it seriously, even though they had director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton, both who gave us the comedy Beetlejuice. The announcement of character actor Jack Nicolson performing the role of the villain The Joker, a perennial favourite from the comics, made ‘proper’ film fans sit up and really take notice, as did the inclusion of other actors like Jack Palance, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle.

(NB: I remember being horrified by the casting of Keaton in the title role, and not until I saw him on the cover of an issue of American science fiction film magazine Starlog did I actually see that Warner Bros were taking this film seriously.)

Vicki Vale and Batman

I was already a comic fan when this came out, having been a fan since the early 1970s, and I saw it in a dingy little cinema in a small country called Orange in country New South Wales, and went in a skeptic, but emerged, reborn, as a lover, and I wasn’t alone, as Batmania hit and there possible wasn’t a man or woman on the planet who didn’t have at least one little tiny piece of Batman-based paraphernalia in their cupboards.

The film struck all the right chords at the right time, like Beatlemania before it, and Spicemania soon after… comic nerds weren’t the outcasts anymore, they became historians, and even the comic industry had a temporary boom, with new store and titles popping up all over the place.

…but what is this film about?

Well, (and I’m sure I don’t really have to tell you) this film tells of the Batman (Michael Keaton), a creature of the night who I stills fear into the heart of the crooks of Gotham City with a campaign of fear.

What no-one knows about the Batman is, is that he is actually millionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne, who has started this campaign of justice as he has suffered severe mental trauma as a child when he watched his parents, Thomas and Martha, brutally murdered in front of him.

There’s other shenanigans happening in Gotham city though, as crimelord Grissom (Jack Palance) has decided to have his second-in-charge, the extraordinarily vain Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) taken down by the police for bedding his girlfriend, Alicia (Jerry Hall).

The Joker in his finery

The tip-off goes awry, and instead of being killed by corrupt cop Lieutenant Elkhart (William Hootkins), Napier falls into a vat of chemicals which damages his face so bad that it drives him mad, and he become a self described homicidal artist, The Joker, with an intention, and the means, of killing the citizens of Gotham City.

Batman has to stop his terrible plans, but the Joker isn’t his only problem, as investigative journalists Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) are hot on the tale of revealing his secret identity…

It’s a classic Batman tale, with the Joker having a nefarious scheme and the Batman requiring some detective work to figure out his game, something some more modern Bat-films have been lacking as he appears to be more a thug who beats up the mentally challenged before locking them up in an asylum where security is obviously lacklustre. It’s a shame these films don’t lean more into the Detective side, when you consider he is ‘the Dark Knight Detective’…

The cast is an interesting mix and are great together, Robert Wuhl providing some surpassingly non-annoying comedy relief, which is occasionally foiled brilliantly by Michael Keaton’s surprising straight man in Bruce Wayne: the ‘give Knox a grant’ line is a set-up that you don’t even know exists until the payoff. Great work from writer Sam Hamm.

Burton’s direction and style drips through the entire proceedings like molasses, sweet and dark, and in combination with Anton Furst’s spectacular design and Danny Elfman’s dark score, it’s like being front row and the sole occupant of a Cure concert. The juxtaposition of Prince’s songs throughout the film make for interesting pops of audible colour that suit the bright appearances of the Joker perfectly, which are both visually and rally appealing and a strange evil light in all the darkness of the good guys and the city in which they live.

One can’t comment on colour within this film without mentioning not just Basinger’s portrayal of Vicki Vale, which is not just another ‘straight man’ role for Wuhl, but also represents us in i converting Bruce Wayne’s tragic backstory. Her appearance in predominantly bright tones and white make her an Angel of salvation not just for the troubled Bruce, but a piece of forbidden fruit for the Joker also.

I could rave about this film forever. I simply love it, and it also reminds me of a time when even though a movie was based on a serialised comic book, which are essentially soap-operas, movies are more story driven and not everything needs to be squeezed into one two hour flick. Nor does it require a cavalcade of other heroes from within the comics to support the main character because they aren’t interesting enough, and most importantly, to watch one film, you don’t need to have seen 30 others and have 2 streaming subscription services to know what’s going on with superfluous characters… it’s doesn’t need to pander to the meme/ Instagram crowd for ‘lols’.

Score: *****

The menu screen for the disc

Extras: There really is an amazing bunch of extras on this Bluray disc:

Commentary by Tim Burton, which really looks at his creative process behind the film and a few little bits and pieces you may have missed upon your initial viewings. It’s an interesting look at his creative process.

On the Set with Bob Kane sees Batman creator Bob Kane on set of the Batman film, talking about his (and Bill Fingers) creations.

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman sees interviews with comic book writers and artists, like Bob Kane, Stan Lee, Mike Mignola and Harlan Ellison, and comic book historians and filmmakers, including the driving force behind this film, Michael E. Uslan, who wrote The Boy Who Loved Batman.

Shadows of the Bat:The Cinematic Saga

Part 1: The Road to Gotham City looks at the genesis of this Batman film which dated all the way back to when the first Superman film came out in the late 70s.

Part 2: The Gathering Storm looks at the difficult decisions that needed to be made as far as the script and casting is concerned, and how they managed to fulfill them.

Part 3: The Legend Reborn has Tim Burton discuss how he created a legacy for Batman, and maybe even extended the life of the characters popularity.

Beyond Batman is the section all about the making of this particular film, divided into these mini-documentaries: Visualising Gotham: The Production Design of Batman, Building the Batmobile, Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and a gadgets of Batman, Designing the Batsuit, From Jack to the Joker and Nocturnal Overture: The Music of Batman. Individually, these make for fascinating featurettes but altogether they explore everything that makes the gothic design of this film so striking and memorable.

Batman: The Heroes and The Villains looks at all the characters individually, with analyses by actors, writers and fans.

Batman The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence is a look at the obviously removed addition of Robin to the script, that was ultimately scrapped.

In addition, there is also the Trailer and music videos for Batdance, Partyman and Scandalous by Prince

Score: *****

WISIA: Its the ultimate comic book film that didn’t just spawn one comic book movie trend, but two. The film and the extras on this discs should be watched regularly by any movie or comic fan.

The Batplane ready for action

Christine (1983)

Christine (1983)

The Australian Bluray release

Film: I’m sure in and about this website I have expressed my ‘Stephen King thing’: I love his stories but don’t enjoy his writing. This means two things, of course: first, I’m some kind of literary heathan of whom shall forever be looked down upon by the book-loving majority, and two, I can watch any film based on a King novel without getting all ‘the book was better’ about it.

This film is an exception to any horror snobbery that may exist though as this film has pedigree in the form of a man known an John Carpenter, who both directed this film and composed the score (along with Alan Howarth, who has a decent horror pedigree himself). Not sure who John Caroenter is? Well, I suggest you sit yourself down and watch John Carpenter’s The Thing, Prince of Darkness, The Fog and Halloween.

Arnie and Dennis check out Christine

Christine tells of Arnie (Keith Gordon), a nerd who is regularly beaten up and picked on by… well, by absolutely everyone except for his mate, Dennis (John Stockwell), who buys a beautiful 5os classic car who has the name ‘Christine’ from an old weirdo named LeBay (Roberts Blossom).

Roberts Blossom sells Arnie a haunted car

Unfortunately for Arnie, Christine has a secret. Slowly but surely, Arnie changes… he becomes cool and aloof, and those who have ever ill-treated him start either disappearing and/or winding up dead.

Dennis does some research about the car and discovers that LeBay’s brother and his family all died as a result of the actions of the car, and along with Annie’s on again/ off again girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Paul) try to find out what effect the car has over Arnie…

Christine is certainly a film of its time. The whole ‘nerd gets picked on but gets revenge due to supernatural means’ was done to death and we’ve moved on from it, and also we tend not to get men who are clearly in thirties to play teenagers any more. The thing is thoigh, I still don’t mind seeing that nerd get the hot girl and get his revenge on the jerks.

The film is entertaining throughout and some of the effects of the car self-repairing are surprisingly good considering their age.

Score: **1/2

The Australian Bluray menu

Extras:

There’s a commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Keith Gordon where they talk about their careers and the time on the set of the film.

There’s about 20-odd Deleted Scenes on this disc, some of which I, for the first time ever, do wish we’re in the film. The Bullies Trashing Christine is a particular fun one, imagine Greased Lightening from Grease, but in reverse.

The featurettes Christine: Fast and Furious, Finish Line and Ignition all look at the making of the film, from the deal made with King and how this is essentially a monster movie. They are each about ten minute and honestly I don’t know why they didn’t just make a 30 minute doco about the film. Seems like they went to the ‘quantity’ column of extras to add value to the disc.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: John Carpenter films are always worth multi-views so I’ve of course watched this several times.

The freshly self-restored Christine

Death Proof (2007)

Death Proof (2007)

The cover of the Australian Bluray of Death Proof

Film: The idea of Grindhouse, the double feature cinema experience conceived by Robert Rodriguez and supported by Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright was an excellent one. Make two movies in a mock double feature, with trailers for either never or yet to be made films in between, with devalued image and sound so that people today could feel like it felt back in the day of the 42nd St Grind house cinemas. Those cinemas named so because they showed badly re-cut horror, sci fi, exploitation and blaxploitation flicks one after another in a constant grind.

What a shame no-one else thought so…

It would seem the general public didn’t have the idea promoted to them well enough, or the promoters just didn’t get it. After the opening weekend of Grindhouse, which was a poor one, the distributors, the Weinstein Brothers, decided to pull the film so they could re-think the promotional release. Now, there are dvd and Bluray releases that come as ‘Uncut and Extended’ editions of Rodriguez’s zombie blood fest PlanetTerror, and this one, Quentin Tarantino’s 70s styled car chase extravaganza Death Proof.

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) observes his prey

Death Proof starts in Texas with three friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) having a few drinks and enjoying each others company when they meet a stalker, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Stuntman Mike is a man stuck in the past dwelling on his past conquests in Hollywood, and can be as charming as a snake. He worms his way into their good graces and offers a member of their extended group Pam (Rose McGowan), a lift home in his car which he claims to be ‘death proof’. Soon after, a dreadful automobile accident happens and only Stuntman Mike survives. The police suspect foul play, but Stuntman Mike is a teetotaler, whilst the others were all drunk or stoned. Flash forward 14 months later and a new set of girls are being stalked. Actress Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) make up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and stuntwomen Kim (Tracie Thoms doing her very BEST Pam Grier impression) and Zoë (played by Zoë Bell, New Zealand stuntwoman), but what Stuntman Mike doesn’t realise is….these girls fight back!!!

This film is made perfectly for Quentin Tarantino fans. The cool music, hip characters, smartarse dialogue and the references to other Tarantino films (and this film is loaded with them!!!). Funnily enough, Tarantino used to riff on other great films, but now he also does it to his own, which at times felt a little masturbatory.

I saw this cut of this film before the version as a part of the Grindhouse experience, which was about 45 minutes shorter, and I must say I am glad, as I don’t think I would have liked to have missed out on any small part of this film. The action scenes are few and far between, but you are lulled into such a false sense of security with the ‘talky’ bits that when they do hit…. you stand up and shout ‘HOLY SHIT!!!!’ Tarantino has been criticised for this film being far too talky, but for me it works really well and I enjoyed watching the performances of the female cast members all spouting Tarantino-isms.

The female characters and the actresses that play them are great, and I couldn’t decide which one of them I liked the most…. Although I suspect Tarantino liked Zoe Bell the best, but with a special mention to the feet of Dawson and Poitier, which get some pretty full screen exposure!!

Tell me you’re watching a Tarantino film without telling me you’re watching a Tarantino film…

Car lovers will dig this flick as well. Stuntman Mike’s 1970 Chevy Nova is truly a site to behold, not to mention his 1970 Charger, Kim’s 1972 Ford Mustang nicknamed L’il Pussy Wagon aka ‘Brand X’ and the white 1970 Dodge Challenger that Zoe Bell spends a lot of the film on top of are nothing short of pure sex. The engines on these suckers make having surround sound a worthwhile investment.

This is certainly not Tarantino’s best film, but it clearly looks through the crowd for the fattest ass – and kicks it! While this film is a definite essential pick up for any Tarantino fan and certainly a must have for lovers of the unsuccessful Grindhouse experiment, it probably doesn’t need to sit in everybody’s DVD collection. Although if you like the 60s misspent youth and the 70s carsploitation flicks, you will probably dig it.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian edition of Death Proof

Extras: Disc 1 has an international poster gallery, mainly featuring the ‘lobby cards’, and with a few ‘international’ posters, and trailers for Death Proof, Planet Terror, 1408, Black Sheep and Feast… no sign of the ‘fake’ trailers from the original Grindhouse film unfortunately!

Disc 2 has some really awesome extras.

Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof is a documentary focusing on the film, but with much love and respect given to some of the great stunt drivers, both old and new. Featured here are stunt co-coordinator for Death Proof Jeff Dashnaw, and his team Buddy Joe Hooker, Steve Davidson, Tracy Dashnaw, Chrissy Weathersby and Terry Leonard. Much love of their abilities is provided by Tarantino, Russell and Tracie Thoms.

Introducing Zoe Bell is a short piece about stuntwoman, and in this film, actress, Zoe Bell, who was Tarantino’s stunt woman on Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2, and how she ended up being a major character in Death Proof.

Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike is a small piece about how COOL everybody thinks Kurt Russell is!

Finding Quentin’s Gals has Tarantino discussing his female casting choices, and has additional comments from Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Bell, with Russell providing some additional input.

The Uncut Version of ‘Baby It’s you’ Performed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a short piece showing Winstead uncut performance of Burt Bacharach’s song for Smith.

The Guys of Death Proof has Tarantino again discussing his casting choices, this time with comments from the guys: Eli Roth, Omar Doom, Michael and James Parks, Michael Bacall and himself, this time with comments from Jordan Ladd and Sydney Tamiia Poitier.

Quentin’s Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke is an interesting look at the unsung heroes of filmmaking: the editors, and in this case, Tarantino’s editor since Reservoir Dogs, Sally Menke. This is a nice tribute to Menke, and ends with some great ‘Hi Sally’ messages/outtakes from the cast.

There is also the trailer for the documentary Double Dare, which is about female stuntwomen, but specifically about stunt legend Jeannie Epper and young stuntwoman/future legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell.

Score: ****

WISIA: Death Proof is such an unusual thing that it deserves to be watched a couple of times, I reckon.

Zöe Bell’s in BIG trouble

Special thanks to Simon from Explosive Action for the help with this review!

Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

The cover to the Australian 3D Bluray steelbook of Mad Max Fury Road

Film: Not every character can just have a new person put into the suit and just take over the role. Sure, Batman and Spiderman and James Bond and Superman have had many bodies in their respective suits, but there are some characters that are almost defined by the person who portrays them.

Jackie Earl Haley had immense boots to fill when he took on the role of Freddy Krueger in 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even though he is an accomplished actor, having him take a role that is defined by Robert England’s performance was probably unfair, and doomed. I remember clearly hearing about Tom Hardy taking over the role of Mad Max’s Max Rockatansky from Mel Gibson and wondered if he had enjoyed his acting career to date, because the fans of the Three Mad Max films are… well, rabid.

… but something weird happened, and at the risk of burying the lead, this new Mad Max film, Mad Max Fury Road, was an amazing thing.

Written and directed by George Miller (written with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris), Miller came up with the concept of only using illustrations to write the script, which is very much a ‘Marvel method’ thing to do. The Marvel method was the writer would come up with a plot, give it to an artist to draw the comics, and then the script was filled in later. This made the production of the early days of Marvel quite quick so they could publish more titles. Miller did a similar thing with having the storyboards drawn first, and the dialogue, of which there is very little, was done later.

Max (Tom Hardy) is displeased with his role as ‘hood ornament’

Mad Max Fury Road is a continuation of the saga of the Road Warrior himself, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) who has found himself captured, and used as a blood transfusion device by the horrifying War Boys, the followers of the war boss, a god-like leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

Meanwhile, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is on he way to other communities to trade for ammunition and fuel, but what Immortan Joe doesn’t realise is that she has kidnapped his five perfect wives (Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abby Lee, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Courtney Eaton) to save them from being farms on his quest for a perfect son.

As one would expect, a despot never likes his stuff taken from him, so a massive motorised war band is formed, full of mutated and drugged up War Boys, and even more mutated automobiles, including the injured Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who is the recipient of Max’s blood.

Eventually, through more action that most movies have in total, Max ends up free from his bondage and becomes Furiosa’s ally, but in a post apocalyptic wasteland, where does one go?

Charlize Theron as Furiosa

Truly, this film is nothing short of magnificent. Miller is on top of his game with what is basically a 2 hour violent action sequence with a story cleverly weaved in between the scenes of utter carnage. Occasionally these sorts of films, the story gets lost, but in this the whole time you are thrilled by everything.

There isn’t a moment of breathing space.

Miller has also created this series of landscapes that are an absolute feast for the eye. Considering mostly in ‘wasteland’ films, the brown dusty desert is the general visual tone, but here the wasteland changes as the journey is taken, and the images of fire and explosions are so bright that they are almost cartoonish.

The cast is one of the most surprising things about this film. To have Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are an amazing coup for such a film, especially when they are juxtaposed with Australian talent like Hugh Keays-Byrne, John Howard (The Club), Josh Helman (Jack Reacher), Richard Carter (Two Hands), Angus Sampson (Insidious), Megan Gale (Stealth), Melissa Jaffer (Brides of Christ)… even wrestler Nathan Jones, and A Current Affair darling Quentin Kenihan show up!!!

It would be remiss of me to not mention how amazing the soundtrack is as well! I am a soundtrack collector and Junkie XL features quite heavily amongst it, with his contributions to Deadpool, Batman VS Superman, Alita, Zach Snyder’s Justice League and Army of the Dead. I always find his scores to really add to the action and this is definitely no exception!

This film is just amazing. I rally can’t talk it up enough! I love every minute of it! The only thing wrong with this film is it didn’t spawn 100 Italian knock offs… 2099: The Bronx Warriors anyone?

Score: *****

The menu screen

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for San Andreas, Entourage and Tracers, before we get to the menu. I should point out that with this steelbook edition, it comes with a 3D version, but I don’t waste my time with watching movies in 3D. The extras are all on the 2D disc.

Maximum Fury: Filming Fury Road looks at the making of the film, from storyboards, to the car stunts and on to the actual on set filming.

Mad Max: Fury on Four Wheels shows off the absolutely ridiculous and over the top designs of the vehicles in the film. (NB: ‘ridiculous’ and ‘over the top’ clearly equals ‘freaking awesome’) The best part is learning that the cars all had names like Cranky Frank, Elvis, Doof Wagon and Buzzard… that’s not true, the best part is EVERYTHING about these damned cars. There’s a few nice tributes to the VW from The Cars that Ate Paris in here too.

The Road Warriors: Max and Furiosa had Thomas Hardy and Charlize Theron talk about the unique way that the story was designed, and the lack of actual words to say.

The Tools of the Wasteland looks at the entire design of the world, which looks like a mix of so many things (I got a huge Gorkamorka/ Necromunda vibe from it all… though the influences are probably the other way around, with the games being influenced by the older Mad Max films)

The Five Wives: So Shiny, So Chrome interviews the actors who play the Fives Wives, and their costume design and history.

Fury Road: Crash and Smash is about 4 minutes of raw footage, stunt tests and exploding cars. What a rush!

There’s three Deleted Scenes that for one of the first times ever, I wish had stayed in. Two of them really look at the apocalypse society and the love for Immortan Joe.

Score: *****

WISIA: I forgot how much I loved this film. And now it’s rocketed back up to the top of my regular rewatch list!

A quiet moment, but it doesn’t last long

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

The cover to the Australian release on Blu of Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Film: Here at the To Watch Pile, we love ourselves some Nicolas Cage; heck, last October we dedicated a whole month to his manic acting and freaky-deakiness! What a guy!

Add to this is my secret affection for car movies, which I guess is less secret now, which is weird considering I don’t like driving and don’t own a car. I’ve always been interested in car culture, not so much racing and that sort of thing, but car-related art, documentaries, even pinstriping and TV shows like Pimp My Ride. This of course means that movies that have cars as a part of their aesthetic appeal to me, then add Mr. Cage into the mix… I’m excited!

Gone in Sixty Seconds is the remake of the 1974 film, Gone in 60 Seconds, written and directed (and starring) H. B. Halicki, modernised by scriptwriter Scott Rosenberg, and directed by Dominic Sena, who directed the Hugh Jackman/ John Travolta thriller, Swordfish, and the comic adaptation of Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Gone in Sixty Seconds tells the story of Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) who has gone foul of the crime boss Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) and is going to kill him unless his brother, retired car booster Memphis (Nicolas Cage) can steal 50 cars, of Calitri’s choosing, in a single night, and have them delivered to the docks for export.

The Crew

Memphis gets in touch with his old crew, featuring Sway (Angelina Jolie), Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), Donny (Chi McBride), Otto (Robert Duvall), Tumbler (Scott Caan) and Kip’s new younger crew, Mirror Man (T. J. Cross), Freb (James Duval) and Toby (William Lee Scott) and they come up with an elaborate plan to execute the mission, but there is two things standing in their way.

The first is the interest they have sparked in their reuniting from the police, particularly Detectives Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant), and the second is Eleanor (an exquisite Shelby Mustang GT500), a car that Memphis has never been able to successfully steal!

Eleanor

Will they get all the cars to the docks or will Calitri have Kip killed? Who cares, just show us more and more sexy cars!

This is a weird movie for what’s essentially car porn. Sena’s direction is more about the micro looks at the cars, and even though you do get to see most of the cars, it’s prominently at night, so they are shown with a lot of reflection and instead the director has gone with close up of the interiors and the drivers. I guess in a movie that is quite heavily character driven and with so many personalities, that is just as important.

The story is actually a lot of fun and holds up, and I was so surprised to find that it was over 20 years old, well, until I saw how young everyone in it looks! There’s some clunky dialogue but it really adds to the cartoony feel of the whole thing. Even as a movie about crime, this doesn’t have the weight of a serious crime movie that shows that crime doesn’t always pay, but tries to give a warning about crime with an unexpected serious moral quote towards the end, which is like those awful pieces of moralising found at the end of a Masters of the Universe cartoon.

The performances are uneven, which is to be expected when three generations of actors ply their trade together, and it makes for some really silly moments, especially when you combine it with the already clunky dialogue, and I guess that’s where the charm of this lies.

One thing that does really irritate me about this film is the whole film builds up to this one amazing car stunt, that for some reason isn’t wholly a real stunt but instead appears to be a pretty average act of CGI shenanigans. When you consider car porn films lead up to ‘The Big Stunt’, this was a bit of a slap in the face.

Over and above that, cars and Cage: what a double! For me, even though I know it’s pretty bad, but it’s the most guiltiest of pleasures.

Score: **

There’s no menu screen on this disc, except for this pop-up menu.

Extras: All that car porn and so few extras! This is a fairly early disc in the Bluray format that was released for the film, so it weirdly goes straight to the movie and you have to access the extras via your pop-up menu. Even then, all that effort doesn’t result in a very interesting watch.

First we have some film highlights which are just a few of the more unbelievable scenes from the film, and the other is titled The Big Jump, which is a three minute making-of but about the really epic car stunt that occurs towards the end of the film.

Lame.

Score: *

WISIA: This film weirdly has a special place in my heart. It’s so stupid that I can just watch it again and again.

Christopher Eccleston as Raymond Calitri

Justice League: Injustice (2021)

Justice League : Injustice (2021)

The cover to Justice League: Injustice.

Film: I really love DC comics. For as long as I can remember I’ve have had DC comics, toys and shirts, but as a company there is one thing that DC has consistently done since the mid-eighties that really gets my goat.

The consistent opposition of Batman and Superman.

Sure, in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series it made sense, but every quality writer (and hack) has seemed to decide that that opposition, even though Miller’s work isn’t part of regular DC time, is the standard between them.

The murder of Lois Lane hits Superman hard…

I always thought that Batman and Superman were the ultimate team, the brains and the brawn, but the way DC plays Batman now is he’s really not much better than Lex Luthor: a rich man afraid of an alien who demonstrates acts of humanity better than actual human beings, and whose pro-activity makes them a better person than they could ever be.

The Injustice video games are fantastic, and I’ve played them a ridiculous amount of time, and considering the cornerstone of the story in that is that opposition, it might make me somewhat of a hypocrite, but it’s the quality gameplay I remember rather than the story. As a caveat I must admit that in my over 40 years of comics reading I have never read an issue of the DC comic Injustice because I have no interest reading a story based on a game that I payed more attention to the mechanics than the story… please ‘X’ to skip? No problem.

The story has been obviously popular though, and even though it’s a trope that fans love even though it’s been beaten to death, as a collector of the DC Animated Blurays I certainly felt an obligation to purchase it, so here we are.

Injustice is the tale of a fallen Superman. After the Joker kills Lois Lane, and destroys Metropolis, Superman goes crazy-8 bonkers and pulls the heart out of the gleeful Joker, and blames Batman partially for Lois’ death as he never had the stones to properly ‘take care’ of the Joker.

… but not as hard as he hits the Joker.

For some reason, Batman decides that this isn’t justice (even though the Joker has killed and escaped so many times) and the Justice League divides into those who think Superman did wrong, and those who think Superman did something fair and just, and so the battle begins with many surprise deaths at the hands of the rogue Kryptonian.

Who is right? Who is wrong? The conversation will possibly continue long after the story has finished, and this story stars SO many DC characters: Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow, and so many more. For a full list, check out the roster of any Injustice video game!

To the credit of the writers, the story doesn’t end up with Batman acquiring some kryptonite but is instead an emotional appeal to the man that Superman once was, and it is far more satisfying. Unfortunately, what is a promising set-up relies on multiverse rubbish and the appearance of Plastic Man and is all executed with probably the worst character design of any DC Animated feature to date.

Score: **

The menu screen to Justice League: Injustice

Extras:

Adventures in Storytelling – Injustice: Crisis and Conflict is a fascinating round table with producers Jim Krieg and Rick Morales, director Matt Peters and writer Ernie Altbacker. It’s a detailed look at the themes and even the politics of the story and entertains and informs thoroughly.

A Preview of Reign of the Supermen and A preview of The Death of Superman are shorts that look at other features from the DC Animated movies.

There is also two animated episodes, Injustice for All parts 1 and 2 from Justice League. Not sure of the connection except for the name, but whatever.

Score: ****

WISIA: Nope, but I’ll play the games again!

The Bat and the Cat discuss their plans to take down the Man of Steel

This review was done with the Australian release of Justice League: Injustice.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Umbrella release of Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Film: I was a latecomer to seeing the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Being in Australia and too young in the eighties to be part of any tape-swapping scene, and then a bit of a loner in the early 90s, I didn’t actually get to see it until it was first released on DVD.

Should I hand my horror fan card in now?

The problem with seeing it so late is I was completely entrenched in the hype from mags like Fangoria, Samhain, Fear and the hundred of other mags and books I had been exposed to before seeing the film. Could a film live up to everything I had heard for all those years? Of course not!

Texas Chain Saw Massacre tells of a group of young kids travelling through Texas to see a family home; Sally (Marilyn Burns), Kirk (William Vail), Pam (Teri McMin), Jerry (Alan Danziger) and the disabled Franklin (Paul A. Partain) who decide it would be fun to pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), an extraordinarily strange man who is kicked out of the van after attacking Franklin with a knife.

Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker

The group go to the abandoned family house and split off in their various directions, as horror youngsters do, exploring the surrounding area. Unfortunately for them, they find out exactly where the hitchhiker lives, and that he has an extended family of the cook (Jim Siedow), the practically immobile (and maybe mummified?) Grandfather (John Dugan) and the terrifying, monstrous, chainsaw-wielding beast Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson). This family LOVE having people for dinner, if you know what I mean… and unfortunately for some, there is fresh, young meat available…

Since that first watch, I’ve respected this film, but haven’t held it in the high regard on my personal list of most loved films like others had, mainly because I had seen and fallen in love with so many other horror films before I had the opportunity to see it, and it didn’t feel as special as I thought it was going to be: it wasn’t very gory, or bloody, but I could appreciate it was a pretty good story and the family, especially Leatherface, the main killer and TCSM icon, were terrifying.

The iconic red shorts scene

There’s no doubt the film really looks the business. Made with a low budget in 1974, the film looks hot, and dirty, and horrible… but not as in horrible filmmaking, because it really looks like a proper horror movie. Hooper makes every set up scene sweat with the heat, and every scene with the bad guys in it is full of dread, and that combination of heat and dread really makes the whole experience really claustrophobic, which is what proper horror really does, and because you see the cast both hot and in fear, you find yourself in the film with them. The upgraded and cleaned up version of the film may have been criticised by some upon release as it made the film look ‘nicer’, but it’s a grimy enough film to be able to overcome that.

I must put a caveat here and say ‘except for one’ in regards to the cast of characters. For me, the entire experience of this film is spoilt by the character of Franklin. I like to get really involved with the characters experiences and feel what they are feeling, but every time Franklin’s immature, whiny drawls come out, I disassociate from the film and find it hard to get back into it. Thankfully he doesn’t spoil the final scenes of the film, so at least the pay off is good.

I appreciate just how important this film is not just to horror, but to the film industry in itself, but personally, there are a lot more films that appeal to me far more. Still, everyone should see it at least once in their lives so they can understand that a film doesn’t have to be Citizen Cain or Gone With The Wind to lay industry foundations that will forever hold strong.

The menu screen to the Bluray release

Score: ***1/2

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for the Umbrella Entertainments releases for The Babadook, and The Quiet Ones, before we get SO many extras! There’s so much information for cast and crew across these extras, after you have finished watching them, you will feel like an expert on the film.

There are 4 (!) commentaries on this disc! One with Tobe Hooper, another with cinematographer Faniel Pearl, Sounds Recordist Ted Nicolaou and Editor J. Larry Carroll, a third with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. partial, Allen Danziger with Art Director Robert A. Burns and finally one with Tobe Hooper, Daniel Pearl and Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hanson. The first two commentaries are labelled as ‘new’ so I assume the others are on previous releases. There is just buckets of anecdotes and recollections across these 4 commentaries they almost make the other extras redundant!

‘Off The Hook’ with Teri McMinn is an interview with the actress who portrayed Pam, who, for me has the iconic shot in the film where she walks across the from of the house in the bright red shorts. There’s also that other iconic scene where she I’d definitely ‘on the hook’ but still, I love the shorts scene.

Interview with actor John Dugan, who played the Grandfather, under LOTS of makeup, obviously. He talks about his days in set and the heat (a common theme) under that mask.

Interview with Production Manager Ros Bozman of which TCSM was one of his earliest jobs, but he went on to do films like Philadelphia and Married to the Mob… he went legitimate, if you will. Again, interesting look at the film production from the POV of the actual production manager makes for an interesting watch.

40th Anniversary Trailer is the trailer made for the remastered version of the film.

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark – a visit to TCSM Location. I like the HHG stuff in general as the revisiting of some of the locations can be fascinating, and this isn’t different. I do have to say I hate the skate punk film clip intro, but I’m willing to forgive that for the content of the rest of the episodes.

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Footage are the usual bunch of things that the film is probably better off without, which it’s popularity obviously proves.

Blooper Reel is ok but looks like it was filmed through a screen door.

Theatrical Trailer, Tv Spots and Radio Spots is about 5 minutes of the original advertising for the film. Now we have this beautiful remastered version it almost seems weird to see it so washed out and grainy… has the film lost something with the clean up? Not to me but I’m sure there are many who prefer the more ‘grindhouse’ feel to the way it used to look.

There are two documentaries on this disc; ‘Flesh Wounds’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth’. Flesh Wounds is divided into 7 parts and is a far more by-the-fans-for-the-fans affair, whereas The Shocking Truth is made as a more traditional doco about the film.

The Tobe Hooper interview and Kim Henkel interviews are certainly the nuts and bolts interviews of the entire disc. Interesting but some of the info has been heard before on the various commentaries and other extras across the disc.

Killing Kirk outtakes is exactly what it says on the box. Some different takes in Kirk’s murder. No commentary or sound though.

Outtakes from ‘The Shocking Truth’ is about 7 minutes of extra footage from the Shocking Truth doco not used in the film.

A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen is a 1993 shot-on-video look at the original location for the house where the original film was made, with commentary by Hanson as he wanders through with the camera crew, and then another in 2000 after the house had been restored… and it’s disturbingly filled with Easter bunnies and paraphernalia!

Score: *****

WISIA: Even though it’s not even in my top 20 favourite horror films, I still will watch it now and again to remind myself of it’s importance not just in the horror film industry, but the entire film industry.

Marilyn Burns as Sally, freaking the hell out!

This review was done with the Australian release of the film, provided by Umbrella Entertainment.

Candyman (2021)

Candyman (2021)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Candyman

Film: For me, Candyman was the last of the really amazing horror franchises. Based on a Clive ‘Hellraiser’ Barker story ‘The Forbidden’ and directed by Paperhouse’s Bernard Rose, it starred Tony Todd from Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake as a supernatural slasher, akin to the likes of Freddy Krueger, but with his revenge coming from a tragic backstory of victimisation and prejudice rather than one of a paedophilic lust that resulted in his doom.

If there was anyone to take the franchise and relaunch it, it would certainly be Jordan Peele. Peele co-produced and co-wrote this film with Wil Rosenfeld and director Nina DeCosta, who direction here impressed me so much that I have become an immediate fan!

Candyman tells of up and coming artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who has seemingly been struggling to find his artistic ‘voice’, and that seems to be holding back his success. Luckily, he is supported by his partner, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), who is employed by a local art gallery.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy

In the quest to find his voice, Anthony visits Cabrini-Green, a part of Chicago that was once a housing project that became an area which was riddled with crime and became neglected by the government, and meets William Burke (Colman Domingo) who introduces him to the horrific story of the Candyman, a man who in Cabrini-Green in the 70s was accusing of disfiguring a young white girl by putting a razor blade in candy that he regularly offered the local children, and was beaten to death by the local police.

Legend has it that if you say ‘Candyman’ in a mirror 5 times, he will appear and murder you, and this appeals to Anthony, jumping onto the myth and creating art based around it. The problem is, sometimes when you open a door to a legend, it refuses to allow the door to be closed, and Anthony, both mentally and physically, starts to devolve as he discovers that maybe the legend of the Candyman is much MUCH more than it seems…

I have to say I went into this with low expectations. Not because of anything to do with the filmmakers, quite the contrary, I loved Peele’s Get Out!, Us, and Twilight Zone series, so his involvement was probably the thing that really made me pursue it. Instead it was that I have an irrational aversion to production companies digging up old franchises to revitalise them. Get Out! and Us are perfect examples of this: why the hell would I want to watch a continuation of a series that died over 20 years ago when there is modern, relevant horror like these titles being made.

Seriously, don’t say his name in the mirror five times!

Perhaps money talks, but judging from the extras, there certainly is a fondness in the black

community for the Candyman, so maybe now is the perfect time to bring back such a character!

DeCosta’s direction was the first thing that stood out for me. Her use of reflection in this as a tool to tell the story is amazing. So many scenes are shot looking at the reverse of the image that it creates an even more dream-like state. I was reminded of Ron Howard’s EdTV where almost every shot begins looking at a TV screen in a way to describe that what you see on TV may not be real. There’s also this fantastic replication of the opening top down view of the first Candyman movie, but, taking the ‘reflection’ idea, it’s shot from below look up. This could also be a look at the people who were trapped in Calibri-Green and other projects like it, and their desire to escape.

The cast are also on point and completely believable. Abdul-Mateen II’s artist is not one we would normally see in a film. Artists are usually seen as struggling financially, but here we see one who is having trouble expressing himself. Parris is a wonderful support to this character, being the driving force behind Anthony, and as someone who has a successful partner who drives me on with my various endeavours, I think I believe in this character more than most! Domingo is also a fascinating character with his sage-like information feed to Anthony, but it never quite feels right, and that pays off in the end.

Flashbacks in this film are also done with an idea that was welcome, and in a film about an artist, both Anthony and the original Candyman, perfectly suitable. Manual Cinema, a shadow puppeteering company, do all the flashbacks in this fashion, and the stories have this beautiful abstraction to them that’s welcome.

The soundtrack by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe suits the film as well, as it’s combination of soundscapes and voices put the viewer on edge constantly. I like these less traditional scores by untraditional performers and this one nails it.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it’s a welcome throwback to the original, and doesn’t ignore the original story, (one section even reveals a photo of Virginia Madsen in it). DaCosta has truly made a film that is proper horror; I’m not sure if I want to see another film in this series, but i think this addition to the legend in the current political climate was timely.

Score: *****

The menu screen the the Bluray of Candyman

Extras: A nice bunch of extras on this disc:

An Alternate Ending that I thought could have almost been a post credit sequence that was interesting and possibly a shame it wasn’t included as that.

There’s 3 deleted/ extended scenes that I’m actually disappointed weren’t included. One is an extended take on the art critics commentary on how it’s artists that cause the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods, next is the suicide of Brianna’s father and finally one where we see a bit more of just how awful the high school mean girls are. I’m not one to normally care deleted scenes but I liked these and realistically they were no more than a minute or two in total.

Say My Name talks about the legend of Candyman, and discusses briefly the violence committed on the minority communities in America. It may only go for 6 minutes or so, but the emotion and content of Tony Todd’s final words makes you stop and think.

Body Horror looks at the devolution of Anthony’s body after the bee-sting he receives at Cabrini Green whilst investigating the Candyman. It’s pretty gross. DaCosta mentions that she was influenced by David Cronenberg and it’s apparent.

The Filmmakers Eye: Nia DaCosta looks at DaCosta’s take on the Candyman legend, and how important it was to have a different cultural take on the legend.

Painting Chaos looks at the work on the film of Hamza Walker, an art consultant, who created basically an art show for Anthony’s work to be displayed amongst. To give it legitimacy, they borrowed work from black Chicago artists so that the art shows weren’t just a bunch of stuff on canvas bashed together by an art department, but instead really represented the local art community. They also look at the artists who did the work for the character of Anthony, Cameron Spratley and Sherwin Ovid, two completely different types of artists but both whose work really adds depth to the character.

The Art of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe looks at the score and soundscapes made for the film, and the take that Lowe has of Philip Glass’ original score.

Terror in the Shadows looks at the stunning beautiful shadow marionettes used in the film created by Manual Cinema.

Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror is an interesting discussion hosted by Colman Domingo with experts on horror and real-life trauma and mental health and the reverence of the character both to the black and horror communities.

Score: ****

WISIA: Seeing as how I enjoyed DaCosta’s work so much I can definitely see me watching this again.

An example of DaCosta’s use of reflection

Whiteout (2009)

Whiteout (2009)

The cover of the UK release of Whiteout

Film: One of the big problems with comic to film projects is compression.

If one is making a film of say, Spiderman, a cinematic script writer needs to look at 50 odd years of history and compress that into 2 odd hours of movie. Some writers attempt this by directly adapting a story, others just try to get a ‘feel’ for the character and others try for an amalgam of tales. Some would say that this is why many comic to film movies didn’t work, and why the modern comic movie DOES work as it simply gets its inspiration from the original work.

Ideally what one would do is to get a story that is a one off, like a novel! Whiteout is a comic written by Greg Rucka, who has written for DC’s Wonder Woman and Action Comics, and illustrated by Steve Leiber, who has illustrated Detective Comics and Conan and is published by independent publisher Oni Press.  Whiteout was popular upon its release in 1999 and to date has produced a sequel, Whiteout: Melt which earned an Eisner Award in 2000 for Best Limited Series. A third series Whiteout: Thaw, renamed Whiteout: Night, is yet to be published.

The film adaptation of Whiteout was directed by Dominic Sena who also directed the Nic Cage vehicle Gone in 60 Seconds and the Travolta/ Jackman thief gumbo Swordfish.

Kate Beckinsale as Stetson

Whiteout starts in 1957, with a Russian transport plane crashlanding into the snow after a gunfight between the co-pilot and a security team who are responsible for guarding ‘something’ results in the pilot getting his brains blown out.

Flash forward to now, and we are introduced to US Federal Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who, after a disastrous experience with a traitorous partner, has worked in a research station in remote Antarctica for 2 years. The station is in a part of Antarctica that becomes so cold in the winter that planes aren’t allowed in or out for three months, and so the majority of the workers leave for that period. Stetko has decided to leave her position as ‘town sheriff’ permanently, and make preparations to leave for the last time. Unfortunately, her last days are marred by what appears to be a body seen by a pilot in a fairly remote part of the area which she has to investigate.

She grabs the Station’s doctor ‘Doc’ (Tom Skerrit) and they, along with a pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) fly out to the remote area where the body was seen, and what they find is not an accident victim, but the corpse of one who has been… murdered.

The body mysteriously abandoned in the snow.

So the story begins, and we have Stetko having to solve a murder in only a few days, and when it becomes compounded with the mystery involving the aforementioned crashed plane, and a case of gangrene to contend with, she has her work cut out for her.

The film on the surface appears to be quality, but somewhere along the line, just doesn’t click. There is nothing wrong with the acting, the story is a fine murder mystery, the direction is good, but for some reason it just doesn’t all gel.  I think it might be just that it has all been seen before, and the film doesn’t really offer anything new to the table. Essentially we have a Wild West sheriff attempting to solve a Holmsian mystery on the set of John Carpenter’s The Thing. I suspect this problem with it stems from the producers being dazzled by the visuals of the comic, but didn’t really see that it was a fairly average mystery story, and when those clever drawn visuals are removed, the story can’t quite hold its own.

Think of it this way; would the film Sin City have been so clever if they had made a straight up colour film adaptation, or would it have been a collection of fairly generic noir (without the noir) stories. I love that film, but am well aware that a good percentage of my affection for it comes from the visuals.

It has all the elements of a great thriller, with a pretty good cast to boot, but somehow, tragically, falls flat.

Score: ***

The Whiteout Bluray menu screen

Extras: After the disc starting with trailers for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The Hurt Locker, The Keeper, and a Snickers advert starring Mr. T (remember them? ‘GET SOME NUTS!’) there’s a couple of decent extras on this disc:

Whiteout: The Coldest Thriller Ever is a traditional ‘making of’ documentary. It shows behind the scenes footage and has interviews with various cast and crew. Work-a-day DVD and BD extra stuff.

Whiteout: From Page To Film is a look at this process of writing and drawing the comic, and how it was adapted to the screen. There are some good insights into how an adaptation can work, or not work.

Deleted Scenes: At about 4 minutes you can see that these deleted scenes don’t really show too much extra, though they one shows both an appearance by writer Greg Rucka, and a look at just how mundane Carrie’s regular policing of the station are.

Score: ***

WISIA: Watch it once and give it away.

This film was reviewed with the UK Bluray release.

The killer kills again!

Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow (2021)

The cover to the Australian 4K steelbook

Film: I’ve always been a fan of low powered/ intellectual heroes. Even though I do dig Superman, and Shazam, I do really love the heroes that spend their time saving the day with nothing more that training and skill. It’s why I love characters likes James Bond, Jack Reacher, Alex Cross and I guess I’ve always loved the idea of an ordinary person making a difference, and maybe wishing that perhaps one day I could make a difference to someone’s life in such a heroic way.

To that end I’ve always loved Daredevil, who had a MCU based Netflix series a few years ago, and even though he does have powers with his sonar ‘sight’, a lot of his character comes from his intellect and his agility. It was in Daredevil comics that I first discovered, and fell in love with the character of Black Widow: a strong, non-powered hero who risks everything for her definition of good.

I was extraordinarily happy when Black Widow turned up in the MCU in Iron Man 2, and was even more happy when it was revealed that she was played by Scarlet Johansson, who I loved in things like Ghost World and 8 Legged Freaks.

This movie is the reward that Scarlet Johansson deserved, as her character wasn’t just a hero, but a moral backbone and solid support to the rest of the Avengers, and her appearance in the brilliant spy-thriller Captain America: Winter Soldier turned her into more than that. This film was written by screenwriter Eric Pearson (Godzilla vs Kong and Thor Ragnarok) from a story by Jac Schaeffer (Wandavision) and Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) and was directed by Lore’s Cate Shortland.

Natasha (Scarlet Johansson) is on the run after the events of Civil War

Black Widow starts in the mid 90s, with us being introduced to a young Natasha Romanov (Ever Anderson), who lives in Ohio with her ’sister’, Yelena (Violet McGraw) and ‘parents’, Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachael Weisz) who we discover very quickly aren’t a family but instead are Russian sleeper agents. They are discovered and have to quickly escape, and we see that perhaps Alexei is more than he seems, and the family return to their Russian handlers, and are separated.

Flash forward to not-quite-modern day Natasha (Johansson), who is on the run from the American government after the events in the dreaded Captain America sequel Civil War (seriously, that was a Captain America film? Shouldn’t it have been an Avengers movie, or just called Marvel Civil War?) who after receiving some mail from her safe house in Budapest, is attacked by a masked villain who seems to know the Avengers every move, including everything from her own repertoire.

It’s not Natasha that our nemesis is after though, but instead a parcel that is amongst the Budapest mail, that would appear to contain a chemical antidote to a particular form of mind control, and was sent to her by Yelena (Florence Pugh).

Natasha returns to Budapest to find Yelena but very quickly they are attacked by a gang of well-trained women who will seemingly stop and nothing to obtain/ kill them, under the leadership of the aforementioned villain known as the Taskmaster.

This leads the to discover that the training ground that perverts young women, including the both of them, into operatives known as ‘Widows’, the Red Room, is still in operation and so they decide to tear it down once and for all, but they need the help of Alexei and Melina, who may have information to help them find the boss of the Red Room, Dreykov (Ray Winston).

The villainous Taskmaster!

I actually feel sorry for Johansson with the release of this film. Ready to come out just as the global pandemic hit, it was delayed and delayed and then unfortunately dumped onto Disney+, not giving it the opportunity to be the success it perhaps should have been, and garnering a female hero in the Marvel universe the superstardom she may deserve. (yes, I’m aware that Captain Marvel exists but let’s face it, it was shoehorned in so the Avengers actually stood a chance against Thanos).

Johansson continues to play Black Widow as a full-tilt action hero, but with heart and soul. She’s easily the most rounded of all the characters in the Marvel movies and that’s a tribute to her acting ability. She’s probably one of the best cast in the Marvel films.

The addition of Pugh, Weisz and Harbour is refreshing too. These are three actors who have been chosen due to their abilities to act rather than fulfilling a body ideal! He’ll, Harbour even promotes his so-called Dad-bod and can still be a superhero. The best thing about it is that they have been built around Johansson’s character and really feel like a real family, and not a reel family.

There is one problem with this film and that’s cinematic history. Sure, as a Marvel machine movie under the control of The Mouse ™ it was going to have lots of people see it, especially seeing as how the Marvel movies now have a requirement to see everything other wise you’ll miss out on key points to enjoy the total soap opera of it all, but the basic plot line of a Russian school training women to be secret agents has been seen in film before. Before you Marvel Zombies jump on me and say she was around before the other things, yes, I know that (I am a comics fan of 45 years standing), but MCU exclusive fans may not know that and if they don’t know the history they will just see this as a copy of Salt or Red Sparrow, which is a shame.

Thankfully the script is still full of mystery, action and heart, tells a great story about how strong family bonds can be, and that ‘family’ can mean more than who a person can be related to by blood, but can have a greater meaning of support, trust and experience. Shortland’s direction really showcases all this brilliantly, and it’s juxtaposition of some of the very male-gaze shots of the female cast, particularly some Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque low angled butt shots, make for an unusual visual gumbo that works perfectly.

There are finer details of the film though which are are great addition to Black Widow’s legend. Where she got her training, what her and Hawkeye were doing in Budapest, the so-called ‘red in her ledger’ are all touched upon but not so heavily that this film requires too much knowledge of other Marvel films to make sense. Like the Antman film it does sit outside as an action film by itself.

That’s not to say there isn’t some references back to the comics either; Alexei refers to another character as ‘Big Bear’ and his alter-ego, The Red Guardian, had a teammate in a Russian version of the Avengers in the comics who was a ‘big bear’ named Ursa Major.

It’s a great action film, and Harbour plays a great comedy part to the seriousness of the entire situation. It’s not as bombastic as other Marvel films but it has more heart than most of them and the redemption of Black Widow’s past is a solid addition to her legend, and makes her sacrifice in Endgame a worthwhile one.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the 4K release

Extras: As usual, we have a bunch of extras on this disc, but they are all too short. Considering that Widow is FINALLY getting her due after a career supporting the other Marvel heroes, it’s a shame there was a ‘comic to film’ history of the comic character done for the disc. That seems to be something lacking from a lot of the Marvel disc releases as they distance themselves more and more from the source material.

Sisters Gonna Work It Out looks at the chemistry between Johansson and Pugh, and the way the characters worked together on screen.

Go Big If You’re Going Home looks at the story and the locations and set design of the film. It’s a bit of a confused hodge-podge that wants to tell a lot but doesn’t have the time to tell any of it appropriately.

Gag Reel. The Marvel Gag reels stopped being funny at about Ant-Man. They don’t need to be on here anymore as they look more like deliberately acted gags.

Deleted Scenes: there are 9 deleted scenes, some of which have some beautiful cinematography and it’s a shame to see it wasted, but as usual, the film doesn’t suffer with their absence.

Score: **1/2

WISIA: It’s a Marvel movie, I rewatch Marvel movies, even when they are as bad as Thor Ragnarok, so yeah, it’ll get rewatched.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) gets his with some red gas!

This review was done with the Australian 4K release, with the extras reviewed off the accompanying Bluray.